The Saga is Over: Norwegian gets approval for Boston-Cork flights

After what seemed like an eternity, Norwegian Air International has finally received USDOT approval to start flights between Boston and Cork, Ireland. Norwegian will fly Boeing 737-800 aircraft between the two cities. This aircraft is smaller than the 787s it currently flies between Boston and Copenhagen, London Gatwick, and Oslo.

The controversial decision – generally hailed within the European Union and condemned within the United States – brings the end of a three-year saga. During that time, Norwegian sought approval for the route, saw its application delayed, and threatened arbitration.

Reaction

Cork Airport officials are predictably ecstatic. As the second-largest city in Ireland, this will be a huge boon to residents and businesses in the area.

A subsidiary of Norwegian Air Shuttle, Norwegian Air International was established in Ireland in 2014. This enable the carrier to utilize certain benefits that carriers based in the European Union receive. Particularly, NAI being in Ireland enables the carrier to utilize the “open skies” agreement. Until now, Norwegian has only been able to serve approved destinations. By establishing a headquarters within the E.U., Norwegian is able to increase the scope of its network.

The Other Side of the Pond

However, extensive U.S.-based opposition means that things have not gone so smoothly for NAI.  The main claim from a variety of U.S. aviation and government officials was that Norwegian has gained an unfair competitive advantage by underpaying pilots – who are allegedly employed under Asian contracts – and that its establishment in Ireland is simply a flag of convenience designed to get around labor laws.

Predictably, Norwegian denies these allegations. It says Norwegian operates under the labour laws of the country in which a crew lives. Moreover, Norwegian alleges that its expansion into U.S. airports is simply good for consumers. It believes U.S. competitors are afraid of the increased competition these Norwegian routes would bring.

Reflections

While I often profile Norweigan flights in Hump Day Fare Hacks and other parts of Speedbird Spotter, I believe that both sides have compelling points, so I can’t say whether this is “good” or “bad” for U.S. aviation. What I can say, though, is that it is certainly good for travelers who care about ticket price.